Integrity on a Cold, Desperate Night

“Integrity is a relative concept, best left to the penetrating minds of Jean-Paul Sartre or Hannah Arendt.  The reality is, when winter winds howl and the only affordable dwelling shapes up as a cardboard carton on Second Avenue, principles and lofty ideals have a tendency to vanish in a whirlpool down the bathroom plumbing…”  -Woody Allen, “Glory Hallelujah, Sold!”

We all have ideas and ideals that we expect ourselves to live up to.  Think back to when you were a teenager and thought of yourself in the future.  You had big expectations that knew not what life could bring around to you.  I believe that everyone would love to follow integrity in all of its forms, especially that little one known as morality.  Yet, as this Woody Allen quote sums it up, life is filled more often with ominous, windy winter nights instead of sunny summer beach days.  We do what we have to do in order to survive, and so, not unlike this story’s protagonist- who was a playwright-turned-prayer construer- we find ourselves scraping pennies off of gasoline-drenched, gum-littered parking lots, hoping that no one will spot us, but hoping even more that we’ve just come one penny closer to paying the rent.

As the economy lingers in its extreme stages of waning with no wax in view, the true meaning of integrity comes into question.  “I would never do that” quickly morphs into “I will do that, just so long as [insert lowly exception invented just to hang on to the last morsel of self-respect]…”  This extends from the engineer now competing with PhDs and would-be lawyers to serve hamburgers to yet another obese victim of failed American Dreams and one too many happy meals.  It is all too easy to judge others for what they have done or their current jobs.  It is much more difficult to understand where people are coming from; this comes, I believe, mainly from being forced into empathy.  It comes from the riches to rags stories.  From losing everything you once believed defined you and having to reevaluate the meaning of one’s life when success and survival are synonymous.

The criminalization of certain behaviors may be necessary to impede total and utter chaos within any given society, yet the problem of not having enough resources to survive (think of the cardboard house during a cold, windy night, or pockets filled with nothing but fuzz combined with an angry stomach growl) is most likely the cause of these behaviors.  Do people really want to steal from others?  Exploit other human and non-human beings?  Clean toilets and sewage pipes?  Sell their sexuality?  Write prayers to be sold on e-bay?  It boils down to one thing- people are desperate, and just getting more and more so while time hum-drums on, fingers calloused by typing up ten million tailored cover letters and resumes, eyes glazed over from the computer screen and from an overall sense of dejected rejection.  And still the stomach growls, the mind wanders, wondering when that wonted un-wanted job will appear.  Integrity.  Yes, best to leave that silly little beast to Sartre or that other philosopher.  It’s not for the normal.

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